MockingbirdMockingbird by Walter Tevis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

what a marvelous little book.

at its core is a question–how many of us would give up the life of the mind, if we had the choice? tevis’ answer is, a lot. and however much one is uncomfortable with the thought, one cannot but have a sneaking suspicion that his answer is in fact the correct one.

in tevis’ future, robots have taken over all the drudgery of life–making food, toasters, clothes, running sewer systems and city buses and fast food outlets. theoretically this leaves the rest of us to more lofty pursuits, like self-actualization and self-development. but what it really brings, for the majority, is a useless life of tv and soporific drugs and Individuality writ large.

most find Individuality adequately onerous that they spurn it.

one exception is Spofforth, the highly intelligent, aware, and feeling robot. two others are Bentley and Mary Lou, rare humans who exist outside the pale, the former by teaching himself to read, the latter by teaching herself to be. each of these characters is rather beautifully drawn, in particular Spofforth. how odd that the robot of the trio is the one most achingly feeling.

it’s an odd little book–it fails to conform to expectations again and again, which is its delight. it is a lovely hymn to the power of intellect and feeling, both undervalued enterprises in our (US) world of anti-intellectualism and emotional anesthesia. it takes quite a few swipes at Received Opinion and collective wisdom.

yet it feels strangely antiquated, as if the book were a 1930s visionary tale. i am unsure why this is, as its sensibility in terms of morality, technology, and religion are quite thoroughly modern, and it was written in the 1980s.

still it’s a lovely book, and a pleasure for its extended meditation on the joy and power of literacy and genuine individuality. i expect to be reconsidering it from time to time, which is the hallmark of a really good book.